What has changed in SEM (search engine marketing) that affects the way travel shoppers search for hotels and how a Google hotel search can affect traffic to your properties website? The challenges of navigating the shifting search engine marketing landscape.
With each passing year, the competitive skillset required to capture customers conducting Google hotel searches continues to ratchet upward. The need to stay current with search engine updates, changes in travelers’ shopping habits, the challenges your customers face online, and other trends in the industry has never been more crucial than it is today.
We have put together this report to highlight top challenges facing hoteliers and hotel marketing professionals. We also identify attention-demanding trends in search marketing and give action items to help hoteliers navigate these challenges.
- Google steadily evolves its methodology, technology, and user experience, deploying ever-increasing sophistication to present users with relevant results and advance its own profitability through more cleverly integrated advertising.
- Travelers utilize an ever-broadening range of devices and channels to plan travel, screens are getting smaller, and the proverbial “above-the-fold ranking” may be gone, presenting hoteliers with a multitude of unique challenges.
- New opportunities for growth, such as voice search, need to be understood and prioritized appropriately, based on each channel’s relative market share as an attributable source of hotel business.
This report examines some of the latest challenges that have arisen on these three fronts in greater detail, and offers guidance for hoteliers interested in taking full advantage of search marketing.
The chart to the right represents a healthy distribution of website traffic sources for a typical hotel.
For most hotels, natural search tends to be the largest slice of the pie, critical to maintaining solid ROI.
Hoteliers must be prepared to allocate an appropriate amount of their marketing budget, attention, and other resources to meet the challenges found here, however sizeable they may appear to be.
To capture more direct bookings, hoteliers must invest heavily in search marketing. Google data shows that about 38% of travelers start their travel-planning process within search engines rather than on OTAs, which only garner about 8% traffic in the beginning stages of planning.
Challenge #1: Ever-Evolving Sophistication of Google’s Advertising Model
The most significant source of upset for search traffic delivery within the past year has been a major upgrade to Google’s display of local listings for hotels, incorporating a prominent metasearch feature.
This section is now diverting much attention away from the organic listings below as an alternative form of advertising, absorbing attention once gained “for free” through strong placement in the natural results.
For the first time ever, starting in Q4 2016, metasearch has grown to become the most important advertising channel for hotels—outpacing even AdWords.
In terms of both click volume and return on ad spend, Google Hotel Ads have shown exponential growth—with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
What prompted this shift?
Google’s search results page now incorporates an attractive metasearch feature in users’ direct line of sight, pulling attention away from its organic listings.
Eye-tracking studies for hotel branded searches from Travel Tripper show that users are drawn to the first few paid ads, the “Google My Business” listing, and the metasearch feature, which displays room rates from multiple distribution channels—all at the expense of natural results, which fall outside of these key areas:
While focusing attention on effective natural search marketing efforts to boost rank, it has become increasingly important to invest as much attention in other paid efforts as well.
Meanwhile, for generic hotel searches—such as “hotels in Paris”—users are immediately presented with a set of paid ads, followed by the metasearch engine, which includes a map, customer reviews, contact information, best available rates, images and more. Organic search results are now displayed beneath these two features, far below the fold.
For users searching on mobile phones, a hotel’s “Google My Business” listing and metasearch booking engine occupy an entire screen, with many attention-grabbing features pushing organic results beneath this attractive display.
From a UX perspective, Google has engineered the metasearch section into a highly graphic, informative, easy-to-use tool, while its organic listings now appear drab, disorganized, and text heavy by contrast.
Studies such as the one conducted by Travel Tripper show that paid search and Google My Business Listing optimization have become increasingly important to searchers. It is no longer of benefit to hotels to put all their eggs in one basket (natural search or paid search).
Marketers throughout the hotel industry have started to take serious notice of Google’s monopoly position, raking in more than $12 billion annually from the travel sector alone.
But unless regulators respond, hoteliers have no choice but to concentrate on making the most of available tools to secure online business.
Challenge #2: Diversification of Devices and Channels Used to Research and Book Travel
As screens get smaller, the importance of adopting aggressive search marketing strategies becomes more important to maintain search ranking and grow market share.
Per Google, 45% of summer travelers search for hotels 6+ weeks in advance.
Hotel customers have been migrating toward mobile devices in ever-increasing numbers.
According to a 2017 report titled “From Search Engine to Booking Engine,” jointly released by Google and Sojern to explore purchase behavior for today’s travelers:
- Almost all hotel segments now receive a majority of searches on mobile devices.
- Mobile queries currently generate over 75% of total searches for some budget-conscious brands.
- At present, luxury hotels receive comparatively less searches from mobile, averaging at 45% of all queries.
- Mobile searches are growing rapidly across all hotel segments, with luxury hotels now experiencing the highest level of growth at 23% year-over-year.
The Share of Mobile Hotel Queries
- Mobile bookings represent 9% to 15% of hotel bookings on any given day.
- A slight uptick for mobile bookings is observable during the weekends, as users shut off their desktop computers for work.
- However, despite the tremendous surge in mobile searches, data shows that most travelers still opt to book hotel reservations on their desktops.
This shift toward mobile devices has multiplied the factor of complexity involved in optimizing user experience, as designers and developers now need to consider all sorts of different screen types.
Inaccurate tracking presents another notorious source of difficulty for hotels. This is particularly true of “click-to-call” leads and bookings, which often leads to a faulty sense of the online/offline balance in customer acquisition.
Tools like the Vizergy Platform offer easy tracking for many lead-generating channels (Website, PPC Campaigns, Google My Business Listing, etc.) and reporting capabilities to properly illustrate brand impressions and activity across the board.
For example, if you notice that your website has seen a drop in traffic, but an up-tick in overall brand impressions, Vizergy’s Website Performance Dashboard could show you that your Google My Business Listing has claimed some of that traffic, but ultimately you are still achieving greater overall success online.
Challenge #3: Newly Emerging Growth Opportunities, such as Voice Search
To compound matters even further, new dimensions spring up on the search front continuously, forcing hoteliers to decide how much time, energy, and money to invest in these emerging technologies.
One of the most crucial frontiers of hotel search marketing that demands attention is voice search.
According to comScore and MindMeld, respectively:
- 40% of U.S. adults use voice search on a daily basis.
- 60% of voice-searchers have adopted the practice within the last year, and 41% have embraced it in the past six months.
Voice search spans multiple platforms, with four main players at present:
- Apple’s Siri
- Google Now
- Microsoft’s Cortana
- Amazon’s Alexa
So here’s the million-dollar question: Is your hotel optimized to appear for a voice-based query such as the following example?
“Hey Google, I need a hotel in Orlando for less than $100.”
Given the current level of usage for voice search—as well as its growth rate—hoteliers simply must learn how to leverage this type of technology to compete for search attention.
Takeaways for Hotel Search Marketers
In review of this data, several key conclusions emerge for hoteliers, highlighting a need to take action and adopt new search marketing strategies.
- Implement a multi-channel approach to search, including both organic and paid marketing components.
- Hoteliers overly reliant on a singular source of search traffic leave themselves open to significant upset as Google’s interface continually evolves.
- Focus equal attention on desktop and mobile users, with campaigns developed for multiple platforms.
- Ensure your website is mobile friendly and fast to load, to satisfy the needs of travelers on all devices.
- While most online bookings are still placed on desktop at present, users are increasingly migrating toward mobile for the full scope of trip planning.
- Determine the appropriate amount of investment in each channel, based on market share.
- Ensure that your analytics platform is robust enough to handle continuous testing, measuring, and refining of new and existing tactics, to make all the right decisions.
- Set up a system to track call conversion accurately, and be sure to import your own call conversion data into Google Hotel Ads, instead of relying on Google’s default method of inferring conversion based on call length.
- Devote immediate attention to voice search, given its current level of usage and explosive growth rate.
Competitors will invest heavily in search marketing from May to July for summer travel, with queries rising. How will you compete?